For a change, island life for the Christmas holidaysBy Tessa Prieto-Valdes
Philippine Daily Inquirer
From the sun-kissed, white-sand beaches and clear, blue waters of Hawaii and Bohol, our holiday vacation was truly blessed with wonderful weather, unforgettable memories and exciting adventures. “Island life” was the theme of our Christmas holiday.
Packed with everything from sunscreens to beach toys, we had the chance to compare various types of sand, from Poipu Beach in Kauai to Alona Beach in Panglao. Our first stop was the sprawling Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa, with its main lobby created in the style of Hawaii’s golden era. Ambience is heightened by several colorful parrots perched in the garden atrium overlooking the pool and beach.
To experience an authentic Hawaiian feast, we attended a Grand Luau. The entertainment featured Polynesian and hula dances, all good except that it made me realize that hotels have native dances as sort of a formula to go along with their buffets.
The sand on Poipu cannot compare to Alona; the latter is whiter and finer. On the other hand, a monk seal slid up and took a nap for a few hours on Poipu Beach. An area around the seal was roped off by the hotel staff so it would not be bothered. I’m not certain our wildlife conservation efforts can match that, at least not yet.
Much to offer
I enjoyed Waikiki Beach more than Poipu, as the former is surrounded by so many shops and restaurants. So while the kids went off to surf the waves, I went off to surf the retail shelves. I found out that Boxing Day, Dec. 26, is one of the biggest days for sales in the US.
After a week in Hawaii, we joined my Mom and the rest of the family for New Year’s in Bohol.
Bohol is a natural paradise. From cute and intriguing tarsiers to playful and shining dolphins, from sunbathing on sun-bleached shores to exploring cool waterfalls, it has so much to offer.
Eskaya Resort (www.eskayaresort.com) was our home, thanks to Rio Mortezo, its new resident manager. Each villa has its own infinity pool overlooking the beach—a serene view that cannot be matched. For once, it was an effort to leave the hotel room to focus on the rest of the activities that my sister Sandy had planned for us.
No trip to Bohol is complete without an afternoon cruise at the Loboc River. My brother Andrew and his family, visiting from California, were enthralled by the native singers and dancers as the barges stopped along several points on the river.
Nearby is the Tarsier Wildlife Sanctuary, where the nocturnal primates are found in their natural habitat. It’s great that the Philippine Tarsier Foundation has centralized all the tarsier care and education into one place, as now we can be assured that the endangered species are protected.
Bohol has 33 coral-stone churches, and visiting these well-preserved religious sites is another must. We had the chance to see three—Baclayon Church on the mainland, and St. Augustine’s and Dauis on Panglao. I wish we could have seen more, but the beauty of Bohol is that it is just a short flight away.
On this short trip, we did not even have time to revisit the Chocolate Hills or go dolphin-watching or see any of the island’s waterfalls. We didn’t see real fireflies either, but got to see a wonderful story about the iconic insects, thanks to historian, artist and now entrepreneur Ino Manalo, who is organizing a tourist area in a small community and training the children to put up a lighted puppet show using vintage and handmade puppets.
Ino’s puppet theater is in a 19th-century house that he is restoring, and guests are welcome to enjoy a home-cooked dinner after. Ino hopes to build and restore other homes in the community, so that it becomes a draw for tourists.
Just southwest of Panglao is the islet of Balicasag, one of the country’s premier marine sanctuaries. My hubby Dennis took the younger generation there for some snorkeling and scuba diving. There were dozens of tourists on Balicasag, a signal that Tourism Secretary Mon Jimenez’s campaigns must truly be working.
Bohol’s breathtaking beaches are ideal for swimming, snorkeling, diving and a range of water sports. The coastline is shallow for several meters, so kids need not fear undertow or deep water. There are lots of sea grass and coral stones though, and many sea urchins, so care must be taken when walking on the shores.
Resorts vary from the budget to the upscale, so there is always somewhere to stay for every kind of tourist. Beachfront accommodations are highly recommended because of stunning views and the relaxing atmosphere.
The famed Alona Beach is a well-developed, half-kilometer stretch of white sand on the southwest section of Panglao Island. Amorita Resort (www.amoritaresort.com) on one end of Alona is the perfect escape for exclusive getaways, and a chance for guests to have tranquility and yet still have access to the vibrant life on the beach.
Resort of the moment
The resort of the moment is The Bellevue Resort (www.thebellevue.com/bohol), quietly tucked away in Doljo Beach on the secluded west side of Panglao. Developed by entrepreneur Johnny Chan, the resort features five-star, luxurious accommodations and top-notch hospitality.
The Bellevue has 159 luxury suites and the design of the hotel is truly beautiful. It’s a must-visit on your next trip to Bohol.
On New Year’s Eve, we were entertained by the incredible performance of the Loboc Youth Ambassadors. The young kids are a full orchestral brass band, whose performance is complete with singing and choreographed moves.
At the end of our multi-beach holiday, I asked our youngest Athena, which of the places she enjoyed better, and she said Bohol. I guess it is really more fun in the Philippines!
Follow @tessavaldes on Twitter or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.